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US Congress Investigates Policy Harming Asylum Seekers

‘Remain in Mexico’ Exposes Families to Danger, Poor Conditions

Migrants seeking asylum wait in line with their case paperwork on October 5, 2019, during a weekly trip by volunteers, lawyers, paralegals and interpreters to the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. © 2019 Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP      

The United States Congress is investigating the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which forces people seeking asylum in the US to wait in Mexico while their asylum requests are processed.

The investigation, which began in mid-January 2020, follows a year of research and advocacy by Human Rights Watch and other groups which found that the program, commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” puts families and individuals at serious risk of harm and undermines due process protections.

Since the program’s January 2019 rollout, the US government has expelled nearly 60,000 people, including 16,000 children – about 500 of whom were younger than 12 months old. The program forces non-Mexican asylum seekers to live in dangerous Mexican border cities, which are ill-prepared to house them and increasingly hostile to their presence. They do not receive legal support or representation, nor can their claims for asylum be properly processed. They lack access to shelter, food, water, and other necessities, and are at risk of kidnapping, sexual assault, and violence, as Human Rights Watch documented in July and September.

Despite some exemptions, people with disabilities have nevertheless been returned to Mexico, where they face significant challenges accessing basic services.

Following the first Congressional hearing on the program in late November, driven by the work of many activists and rights groups in Washington, including Human Rights Watch, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has taken an important step by requesting documents, data, and communications related to the program from the Department of Homeland Security. This represents a new level of scrutiny from Congress and indicates that lawmakers are beginning to understand the devastation families and individuals sent to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program face.

It’s a promising development, but much work lies ahead to ensure Congress conducts this investigation in a timely manner, takes meaningful steps towards ending this heinous practice, and ultimately respects the safety and dignity of asylum seekers.

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